Episode 14: Shade of Arugal


I snapped awake and nearly screamed when I jerked from the ground. My head was fuzzy and the ground seemed uneven as I swung my staff around to avoid being attacked. I was filled with a sudden panic and a rage unlike anything I had felt in recent years. Something, if not everything, inside of me was shouting for revenge. Then, with a snap of her fingers, I collapsed to the ground.

“Mage,” she said quietly. “How are you?”

“I’m angry!” I shouted. “Let me up!”

“The potion has not yet worn off. Please, you’ll only hurt yourself more if you struggle.”

“Let me up!” I shouted again.

“What did you see?” the woman asked. “Was it Arugal?”

“It was Arthas! That scumbag was raising Arugal from the dead!”

The woman sitting nearby seemed completely calm, even with me writhing on the ground as I tried to push off some invisible weight that was pressing down on me. Her eyes were clouded over and she could not see me or my apparent agony.

She could however, sense me, much like she could sense the anger that was pulsing from my body, and the fear that was slowly ebbing from the paladin that had come alongside me.

“He will be okay,” the woman said aloud. “His anger is a result of distant memories and conflicts. My potion brings out the most painful of these memories as it digs through the mind to seek the true nature of someone’s visit.”

“Ruuna,” Christine said as she looked at me with hurting eyes. “He seems like he is in so much pain.”

“That would be because he is,” the woman replied. “This one is heartbroken and sick. His anger is raw and unfocused.”

“That’s it,” Christine said more firmly. “That’s enough.”

With that, that paladin stepped forward and used her holy magic to cleanse me of the potion. I felt a bit of a sting as she cleaned my veins, but I finally felt the ability to rest sweeping over me. When the light faded away, Christine waited for a moment while I climbed up on my knees and finally stood.

“Thank you,” I mumbled. “Now, come on, we need to find Sasha. She was in a vision I had.”

“Sasha is from Amberpine Lodge,” Ruuna said. “At least she was until a few months ago when she started helping the trappers.”

“Christine, this is bigger than I thought. Arthas has brought Arugal back to life and the worgen are his doing. If I don’t stop him right away these hills could be the new Silverpine forest.”

“I’ll help you in any way I can,” she replied.

“Go and get Stoutmantle,” I said as I gathered my things and tried to brush off the dirt from the floor. “Have him send anyone he can. Meet me south of the encampment. I have to go to Sasha.”

Christine gave a quick salute and then jumped on her horse and started riding back toward the Westfall Brigade. I returned to Surfal and started to climb on when Ruuna stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.

I glanced at her and she appeared to be looking right into Surfal’s glowing eyes.

“A druid soul is bound to this animal,” she said somewhat awkwardly. “A piece of a soul that cannot be replaced.”

More riddles? “I’m sorry,” I said. I don’t understand.”

“Your horse is bound to the night elf, but the elf is also bound to this creature. If this horse were to fall in battle, then the pain it feels would spread to the night elf that gifted it with the life it carries.”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“If the time comes mage, and this horse is bound to suffer,” she paused for a moment so he could get her point. “It is best it die quickly and painlessly, as to spare the elf.”

I glanced at Surfal’s faintly glowing eyes and then took a deep breath. I had never even considered the implications of what Keaira had done to Surfal.

“Will the night elf die if the horse dies?”

“Yes,” the woman replied. “A soul can live separated, but if one piece dies then it all dies together. Agonizing and slow, but fatal all the same.”

“I understand,” I replied. “I’ll keep the horse safe.”

“You do not understand,” Ruuna said flatly. “The horse will die. You must shorten the suffering, Sionis Sepher.”

I was shocked. “It’s going to die? When is this supposed to happen?”

Ruuna shook her head. “It will happen, that is all that matters. You must be ready to end the suffering.”

I didn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say. How could I be ready to kill my own horse, to kill Keaira? A feeling like frostburn pulsed in my wounded heart. I climbed atop Surfal and started to ride, ignoring anything else that Ruuna might have wanted to tell me.

I pressed north to the small trapper camp that I had seen in my vision. Just as I arrived I heard gunfire inside one of the small buildings. I started toward it and realized that there were several dead trappers and a few worgen too. Fearing the worse, I barged into the building and saw a man standing with his hand over a fresh wound. In the center of the room stood a woman with shoulder length black hair and a large rifle pointed to another woman, this one tied to a chair.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

“Worgen scum was just about to tell me where I can find Arugal,” the woman snapped.

“I won’t tell you anything!” the man shouted.

“You will if you want your wife to live,” the woman replied.

“Sasha,” I said, trying to think of how to diffuse the situation. “I think you need to calm down for a moment.”

“No!” she shouted. “I watched these murderers kill my husband and child. They’ll either tell me where I can find Arugal or die. So which will it be?”

“Forgive me, Tabitha,” the man said aloud.

He charged forward and Sasha fired her rifle, hitting Tabitha right between the eyes, and killing her instantly. Her shot had bought the attacker time to close his distance. As he moved in for the kill he transformed into a terrifying worgen.

Sasha tried to reload, but her efforts were worthless. The beast jumped at her and was just about to tear her open when a blazing ball of fire slammed into the monster and flung it clear across the hut. She looked to the door and saw me with my hand raised to defend her.

“Thank you,” she said as she finished reloading.

“Don’t thank me,” he replied.

She pointed the weapon at the injured worgen and shouted, “Where is Arugal?”

“Bloodmoon Island,” the beast replied. “He’s on Bloodmoon Island.”

“Now see?” she asked. “Was that so hard?”

Sasha turned the loaded gun and fired.

The worgen fell dead a few feet from the body of its wife. Sasha turned and faced me now, and she held up her gun as if I might be the next target.

“I have to kill Arugal for what he’s done to this place,” Sasha said loudly. “I had a vision yesterday that a mage would help me do that. Arugal is way too strong for me to take on alone. My question is, are you that mage?”

“I am,” I said honestly. “I don’t know that this is the way to accomplish your goal.”

“These worgen murdered my family.”

“While they were under Arugal’s control,” I added. “He’s the enemy, not some transformed villagers.”

“Don’t give me that pile of lies,” Sasha retorted. “Now are you going to help me or not?”

“That depends,” I replied angrily. “Do you seriously think you’ll be able to kill me with that little boom stick of yours?”

Sasha stood her ground for a few moments, but then lowered her weapon in defeat. I waited until she was in front of me before I dared let down my guard, but I could tell that Sasha was tired and worn.

“Please,” she said quietly, “he’s destroying this place.”

I had already put Arugal to rest once and it hadn’t done any good. Then again, maybe the second time would be enough to end this threat.

“We’ll stop him,” I said.

“Thank you!” she shouted. “Thank you so much!”

“Don’t get too excited,” I replied. “This guy isn’t just Arugal, he’s a dead Arugal that has obviously been given a lot of power by Arthas. We need to be careful about this.”

“What do you recommend?” she asked.

“Take my hand and let me show you.”

She did as I asked and I led her outside and put my free hand on Surfal. I opened myself up to the nether and located Christine’s life energy with ease. When you spend a great deal of time together, the little pulse of arcane energy becomes recognizable. I squeezed her hand for good measure, and then with a pop and fizzle, we teleported to an open field where there were at least a dozen soldiers standing with Christine.

“I got you some backup,” she said with a smile when she saw me appear.

“You did good,” I said in return. “Now mount up, we’re going to Bloodmoon Isle.”

Above the small island, a dark circle of clouds circled ominously. Fortunately, the water was shallow and Surfal pressed through with no signs of slowing. Sometimes, as they rode, I wondered if Surfal was able to pull on Keaira’s energy on top of his own. Perhaps she was still working with me, even though she was no longer here.

Then, there was a sout.

At least a dozen worgen rushed out from the building on the island and they came right for us. I ordered the Westfall brigade into the fray and then pulled Christine and Sasha over, casting an invisible shield around them and rushing us further into the complex without the attention of Arugal’s minions. Of course, I didn’t think the plan all the way through, and when we entered a large empty room, the protective cloak was ripped away and we were out in the open. I waited for a moment, looking around the room carefully for any signs of danger, but then I saw something that I wished I had not seen.

The Shade of Arugal was sitting not far from me with an evil grin on his ghostly face. Up until this point, I had not known for sure what the difference between a shade and a normal undead was, but now it was clear. Arugal was a magical essence, a ghost of his former self. There was nothing physical standing before them, but instead there was a wisp of air and whatever other nether energies comprised the almost transparent image I was looking at.

“Hello Sionis,” Arugal said in a low and broken voice. “We meet once again, and surprisingly, the circumstances do not seem that different.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” I replied as I positioned himself in front of Sasha and Christine. “It seems like you’re still boarding yourself up and trying to control the worgen.”

“I’m closer than you can possibly imagine,” he snapped at me. “If you had not slain me, perhaps Gilneas could have been saved.”

“Gilneas?” Sionis asked. “That kingdom is sealed itself away before the scourge. What do you mean, talking about being saved?”

“Come now, Sionis,” Arugal said with a hiss on the end of the mage’s name. “Do you really think that the kingdom could have escaped the darkness?”

“This conversation is meaningless,” Sasha shouted. “You’re a monster!”

“Am I?” Arugal asked. “Have you not seen how powerful the trappers are now that they have my blessing? A worgen’s power is nearly unlimited and the ability to transform whenever desired removes the danger of insanity. All I’ve asked in return for granting them this power is loyalty to my research. Imagine, Sionis, the army of Stormwind being able to use the power of a worgen in their battles and yet able to return home to their loved ones as the same humans that left.”

“Wishful thinking,” I replied. “Arugal, it was this madness that led to your death the first time around. Why do you persist in death when you know all too well how powerful the Lich King is? Or do you not realize that he’s controlling you even now?”

“There is much that Arthas does not know,” Arugal said with a grin. “Unfortunately, in order to keep my secrets, I must kill you all. However, you can die with the peace and knowledge that my research will save countless human lives.”

With that, Arugal snapped into action, firing a blast of dark magic that sliced right through my regalia before I could fully dodge the attack. With a quick response, and a fire blast, I realized that we had a problem. The fire slipped right through Arugal’s ghostly form.

“Foolish mage,” the ghost laughed. “You’ll have to come up with something better than that if you’re planning to contain me.”

“How about this?” Christine asked.

The shade turned and the paladin threw down a shield of holy light that encircled Arugal’s dark magic and pressed in on it. Arugal struggled against the light but it only responded by tightening down around him.

“Curse you paladin!” he shouted.

“You got him?” I asked.

“Temporarily,” Christine replied. “He’s far stronger than I realized.”

I reached into my robe and pulled out a small mana crystal I had made the night before. I wasn’t certain how powerful Arugal was, but I couldn’t think that Arthas would have given the old archmage too much power of his own. Thus, running on luck alone, I energized the crystal and shoved it through Christine’s holy shield. When it came into contact with Arugal’s dark energy it started to vibrate wildly. I pulled my hand back out and put up my own mana shiled around Christine’s.

“Keep your shield up as long as you can,” I said.

“What? Why?”

“Just trust me,” I said.

By now a loud humming was coming from the mana crystal, so loud in fact, that Arugal’s continual curses and profanities were barely heard. The more the crystal reacted with Arugal’s energy, the more unstable it became. It was literally turning into raw energy, cancelling out itself and the shade at the same time. Much like the Nexus, with every passing second I could feel the energy within my shield intensifying.

Christine was young and much less powerful compared to the aged Appoleon. I could see that she was losing her grip on the holy shield that was keeping Arugal contained.

“Hang in there,” I said as I tried to push on my own mana shield to relieve the pressure for her. “It’s almost done.”

“It hurts,” she replied. “It is physically hurting me!”

“I know, just hang in there!”

Just as I spoke the words, the crystal within the shield reached a critical mass. It exploded into a million shards and vaporized Arugal inside the bubble. Unfortunately, the resulting blast was too much for even me to contain. The energy was so powerful that we were all hit by the blast and thrown from the building. When I did finally hit the ground, I opened his eyes to see several individuals around me that appeared somewhat shocked by his appearance.

I stumbled to my feet and an Alliance soldier came running up to him with bloodied sword in hand.

“Sionis!” he shouted. “The worgen, they all just turned back into humans.”

“What?”

“These people were worgen just a few minutes ago.”

“Well,” I replied casually, “I guess that means Arugal is dead…again.”

“Where is Christine?”

My brain snapped back to the explosion within the building and the danger of what had happened flooded into my mind. I bolted back to the empty structure and inside I found Christine leaning on the ground.

“Christine,” I said in a panic. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Christine replied, her voice weak. “I’m fine, but Sasha isn’t.”

I moved over to Sasha and saw the young woman lying there, with a visible hole in her chest from where one of the mana crystal shards had probably torn through in the blast. I could tell the wound was fatal, but I had seen paladins do great things before.

“Is she…”

“I tried healing her,” Christine replied. “The crystal shard had dark energy in it. It’s resisting the light like you wouldn’t believe.”

“The wound won’t heal?”

“Maybe if we could get her to a priest they could overpower the darkness, but I’m not skilled enough to fix it.”

“Then we’ll get her to a priest,” I said as I pulled a small roll of frostweave bandages that I had just made during my stay at Amberpine Lodge.

“No,” Sasha grumbled, opening her eyes slowly to look up at the mage. “I’m ready now.”

“Ready for what?”

“My husband, my child, they have already moved on. I’m ready to be with them again.”

I hesitated for a moment, but Christine reached out and pushed my bandage away. When I looked up at her, she shook her head slightly and I knew what she was saying. The bandages were a long shot, and even if the magic within them did keep Sasha alive long enough to find a priest, they may only be able to slow her death.

“I want to thank you,” Sasha continued. “My actions against the worgen were bold and I know that full well. Now, Arugal is gone and the Grizzly Hills will be safe for other families who seek shelter in these remote lands.”

As though on cue, Sasha leaned her head toward me, grinned, and then gently closed her eyes and passed away.

“We’ll need to burn the body,” Christine said aloud. “She must be allowed to rest in peace.”

“I’ll take care of that,” I replied. “Get out there and help organize the survivors. We’ll put all the bodies in here with Sasha’s.”

A short time later, when the hut had been filled with the defeated worgen and soldiers, I set the entire building aflame with a steady stream of magical fire. The crackling and the hissing of the wood and straw made for terrifying funeral music, but I had no time for formalities. In Northrend, knowing that Sasha would not return to fight us again was enough peace of mind.

“Are you ready to go?” Christine asked me as she set her hand on his shoulder.

I nodded slightly and turned toward the other survivors. I noticed that Surfal’s head was hanging low. Again, for a quick moment, I wondered if somewhere in Auberdine, Keaira was feeling the loss that so many felt here on Bloodmoon Isle.

“Yes,” I said aloud. “I’m ready. Let’s get back to Stoutmantle.”

TO BE CONTINUED...

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